The Table Podcast

Lessons From Egypt

In this episode Drs. Darrell Bock and Mark Yarbrough tell Mikel Del Rosario about their trip to Egypt, speaking to the challenges and hope in the country, as well as the broader Middle East. Note: This interview was recorded before March 2020.

Timecodes
00:15
The dedication of a Coptic Orthodox Church
03:30
Peace and the church
08:20
Elevating human dignity
12:30
Egyptian leaders and cultural complexities
17:31
The state of Christianity in Egypt
20:38
Concerns of the Coptic Church in Egypt
24:55
Religious liberty in the Middle East
29:20
Evangelism in the Middle East
32:40
Globalization and the global church
38:42
Promoting unity among churches
Transcript
Mikel Del Rosario
Welcome to The Table where we discuss issues of God and culture. I’m Mikel Del Rosario, Cultural Engagement Manager here at the Hendricks Center. And our topic on the show today is Lessons from Egypt. We’re going to hear a pretty interesting story today, and see what it’s like to meet with Egyptian leaders in the church, and find out what Christians need to know about Islam and Christianity in Egypt today. And we have two guests in studio today. My first guest is Darrell Bock, Executive Director of Cultural Engagement and Senior Research Professor of New Testament here at DTS. Welcome, Darrell.
Darrell Bock
Pleasure to be here.
Mikel Del Rosario
So happy to have you and Mark here. We’ve been trying to get you guys in the same place at the same time.
Mark Yarbrough
It took a while, didn’t it? That’s right.
Darrell Bock
The only time we see each other is when we’re off campus. [Laughter]
Mark Yarbrough
So true.
Mikel Del Rosario
My second guest in studio is Mark Yarbrough who is the VP of Academic Affairs, teaches in the BE Department at Dallas Theological Seminary, and is President Elect of Dallas Theological Seminary. So glad to have you on the show.
Mark Yarbrough
Always happy to be here.
Mikel Del Rosario
Well you guys went on a pretty unique trip a while back to Egypt and you were there for the opening of the largest church in the Middle East. And tell us how that trip came about Mark.
Mark Yarbrough
Well, we have a mutual friend. His name is Joel Rosenberg and that is a name that I know is familiar to all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons to be perfectly honest. Some folks have read his plethora of wonderful novels. He is just an exquisite writer. He is also a strong believer, of course, and has a heartbeat for the Middle East – for all people. And, the Lord has placed Joel in some very unique moments in history working in political consultation with a variety of countries.

And, it’s safe to say that even his writing has led to many invitations with political figures because of his writing style and some of the characters that he designs and portrays. His writing is right out of real life and what is happening in the Middle East right now. And so, he had a very unique invitation that came from the President of Egypt, President el-Sisi. His technical name I suppose is President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, but most people reference him as President el-Sisi. That invitation came because of the dedication actually of a Christian church and a mosque that was being built by the government with some surrounding funds that also came from individuals. But in many ways, as it relates to our topic, the President was making a pledge – a very public and possibly even dangerous pledge to the Christians in Egypt. And so, Joel had an opportunity to bring together ten or twelve individuals to participate and, in many ways, represent Western Evangelicalism, and to go there for that celebration. Darrell, do you want to kind of add to that of that invitation we received?

Darrell Bock
Yeah, it’s part of a longer sequence of meetings that Joel’s been a part of that have involved many countries.
Mark Yarbrough
For several years, by the way.
Darrell Bock
For several years in the Middle East. Joel is a Messianic believer who has moved to Israel, now lives there. Well, he actually – talk about a commute.
Mark Yarbrough
Back and forth. [Laughter]
Darrell Bock
He commutes from Israel to the United States on a regular basis and has been involved in several of these discussions in several countries. But the one in Egypt was particularly significant because it represented a response to a bombing of Coptic churches in Egypt and was his way of signaling that he wanted a different kind of nation. And so, we went as a delegation and were involved in several meetings including with Pope Tawadros II who is the leader of the Coptic church. The major denomination in Egypt is Coptic. Christians make up about 10 percent of the population there. Muslims make up the remaining 90 percent. So, they’re definitely a minority.

And, we also met with the leader of the Protestant churches at the same time – well, in separate meetings, but during the same trip. And, this took place in January of this year, 2019. And we were there – what – for I guess three or four days in and out of these meetings, attending these dedication ceremonies. We went to the dedication ceremony both at the Christian church and at the mosque because they’re located in – Cairo is building a new administrative or governmental district.

That’s actually what was going on. And they placed these two centers of worship in the new administrative district. The U.A.E. is actually in the process of doing something similar. The U.A.E., the plan is to have a mosque, a church, and a synagogue all in the same basic area to try and portray – and this is the case in some Muslim contexts – to try and portray at least an attempt to have these three historic faiths be able to function side by side with one another in the national context of the particular nation in question. So, that’s the backdrop for what’s going on here.

Mark Yarbrough
And so, the celebration that we were at was the dedication to these two buildings in response to, as you said, Darrell, the bombing. It occurred in terms of January 6, which is the Coptic Christmas date. So, Darrell and I had an opportunity to have two Christmases. It was great. [Laughter] Celebrate one here. And we joked there was some level for us personally, some wonderful comedy. We got on the plane and we’re flying over there and Christmas music is still playing because Christmas is celebrated by many, many people, not just Christians in Egypt. I mean it permeated the airports. Everything commerce and trade is all about Christmas even in Egypt. So, it was fascinating.
Darrell Bock
You know to fly over there, we had to transfer. I think we were transferring from Rome. And we got on this Italian flight into Egypt and there are a lot of things that were funny about that. The ticket said first class, it was coach. [Laughter] I don’t know if Guido got a hold of the tickets or what. And then this Christmas music comes over. And Mark and I are looking at one another going, “It’s January. What’s that going?” And all the sudden, it dawned us that it’s the Eastern calendar. So, you get off the plane, there’s this huge Christmas tree in the airport.
Mark Yarbrough
There’s just something bizarre about listening to Perry Como in Egypt, you know? [Laughter] Fascinating.
Darrell Bock
So, the entire trip was – and this is actually one of the reasons we’re sharing this – the entire trip was an entire cross-cultural experience in every way. We got to visit the pyramids, which was stunning. They’re just stunning to think about how long they’ve been sitting there. [Laughter]
Mark Yarbrough
Well, the thought of just Moses saw these pyramids.
Darrell Bock
Exactly. Yeah.
Mark Yarbrough
That gives you a reality check for it.
Darrell Bock
Exactly. And we went to the Egyptian museum, which is one of the most famous antiquities sites in the world. They’re actually in the process of building a new Egyptian antiquities building.
Mark Yarbrough
It’s going to be stunning.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, fabulous when it’s done. So, that means we’re going back to Cairo at some point. But anyway, it was a fascinating trip and very, very surprising and eye-opening at the same time. I mean, that’s the thing that I think struck both of us was the nature of the experience as a whole.
Mikel Del Rosario
Mm-hmm. So, you met with the President of Egypt, you met with the leader of the Coptic Church there, and then you also met with the president of the Protestant group there.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. Well, we didn’t actually formally meet with the President. We were supposed to, but that didn’t end up working out. We did attend all the events that were involved. And in fact, did so in such a way that when we went in to dedicate one of the buildings – I can’t remember now – I think it was the dedication of the mosque – I literally was as close to the President as Mark is to me. The delegation was all brought together and brought to the front so we could see everything very, very directly. And as he went in to the mosque, we were literally the group around where the President was.
Mark Yarbrough
Yeah. We were able to greet him, but we did not have a sit down with him. Joel has had that on two other occasions.
Darrell Bock
That’s right.
Mark Yarbrough
Where he has been invited to participate. I also had a very interesting discussion at that same moment with the General that is the highest-ranking official in that regard. And, he was very appreciative of an evangelical being present because of what they are attempting to accomplish in regard to peace and respect in the nation. So, it wasn’t just symbolic. It represented many different things for President el-Sisi of his leadership for the people in the nation.
Mikel Del Rosario
And this was supposed to be a Christmas gift of his to the Christians?
Mark Yarbrough
Yes.
Darrell Bock
Correct, yes. Once these bombings took place and they devised this way of dealing with it and putting in the administrative district, which is symbolic. That’s part of what’s going on here. They raised the money, designed the buildings, and did it all in 18 months.
Mikel Del Rosario
Wow.
Darrell Bock
And Egypt’s not an easy place. The choice to do this in this way in the attitude of some is something that is to be fought. And so, one of the things that became very clear is how tenuous all these moves are when they’re undertaken. And we sometimes in the West hear all kinds of things about the nature of the oppression coming from the government in these countries. But, there is a real tooth-and-nail, life-and-death struggle going on for who owns the heart of the country. And that’s just part of the reality.

That was part of the eye-opening. Part of the irony of this visit was, at the very same time that all of this was going on in Egypt, on 60 Minutes here in the States, a special was being aired that focused on President el-Sisi. But what they concentrated on was the nature of the way his security state works to kind of protect his interests. That kind of thing. And as a result, what we were asked to do by the leaders is to go back and tell the story of what is going on in Egypt. Which is why we’re doing this.

And to tell the part of the story that people normally don’t get to hear. And so, that’s what we were doing. And so, several of us on the return wrote pieces for a variety of news outlets. I did one for the Dallas Morning News reporting on what we had seen. And in my case, I juxtaposed what you were hearing on 60 Minutes about Egypt – which it wasn’t that it was untrue, it’s just part of the story – and then what we had seen. And put those next to one another which shows the complexity of aspects of the social and political realities in the Middle East.

Mark Yarbrough
Yeah. I was going to say in all fairness, we saw a snapshot in a three- or four-day window. But it did open up a door for us to see the complexity of what President el-Sisi has to deal with. So, realize when we are in these moments, we had heavy security. There had been a bombing the day before we arrived just down the road from where we stayed. We never felt at risk, but there is a complexity in the culture because of an age-old clash of religious systems. And so, when you have a president that is making a public pledge to protect all people, that has to stand for something.

And so, in many of he discussion that we were with, when they were saying there’s a conservative group in both sides that longs to again, protect people and protect citizens, and to treat all people fairly, and to honor – if I can phrase it this way – human dignity. That was also one of the tensions because in the midst of this investment that the President is doing, and obviously, his background is of a military leader, so that’s part of the 60 Minutes piece as well. Obviously, there is strong human suffering in Egypt. And so, on that perspective, how do you deal with so many things all at the same time to accomplish the greater good?

And I think we all walked away, our contingency walked away with a great appreciation – and to be honest, even a desire to pray for someone like that that is in a position of leadership. That’s very biblical, right? Even if we disagree with their religious convictions, to pray for individuals that are in positions of significant influence of clearly which he is one. And it makes our political problems in the U.S. look like a cake walk compared to the long history and the baggage that he himself as a leader has inherited with such divisiveness. I mean, when you look at the history of Egypt and what has come of that is the seedbed in many ways for Jihadism that was expressed in lots of different countries at different points throughout history. For him to try come at it with a different model is – he has quite a task in front of him.

Darrell Bock
Yeah, and one of the things that stood is out is that this ceremony was an all-day event for us.
Mark Yarbrough
Oh, was it all day, it was all day. [Laughter]
Darrell Bock
We gathered together and were taken from place to place. But one of the things that I think struck all of us is as we were getting into the administrative district, which is brand, brand new. I mean, it’s not finished yet.
Mark Yarbrough
It’s about – what? 30 to 45 miles east of Cairo.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, it’s a good 45-minute drive. But, what you saw – it’s almost like entering into a military encampment in some ways. And you sit there and say, “Well, Egypt isn’t at war with anybody.” But there are tanks along the way as you’re driving towards this site and that kind of thing…to protect. Because the threat of something violent happening as a result of the symbolism that was represented was significant. The film that they showed as part of the event, what happened is they dedicated the church first and then the mosque. But they gathered us in a huge auditorium. I don’t know how many people were there total. A few thousand maybe.
Mark Yarbrough
A couple thousand at least, right?
Darrell Bock
Yeah. Anyway, they did this film and this film was about New Egypt trying to live in some level of harmony together was basically the thrust of the film. And they had their key entertainers. We didn’t know who any of these people were.
Mark Yarbrough
Some of the pop stars in Egypt were there. It was a big deal. Everybody knew who they were. They had been on television and radio. And that’s who they used to try to voice this message to the public.
Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm. And it was so controversial that only certain Arab leaders showed up with the event because other Arab leaders didn’t necessarily want to be identified with what was represented.
Mark Yarbrough
That’s a huge issue. That alone tells you of this division in many Muslim countries of those that would come to participate to see what is attempting to be done here – a message point that is being made. And those that would stand against that. That was fascinating.
Darrell Bock
So, this opens up really another feature. Well, there’s one other element to this that’s important to the story before we transition to Islam as a whole. And that is in the meetings that we had with both the leader of the Coptic Church and the Protestant churches. We had an all-day meeting at one point with the Protestant leaders all gathered around a table. I think there were 60 or 70 people in the room total and having a conversation about what was going on in Egypt, etcetera. And they had two things they wanted to say to us. One is when you go home, please tell the story of what is going on here. And the second was, things are much better for us as Christians now then they have been in Egypt for a long time.
Mark Yarbrough
That was crystal clear.
Darrell Bock
They couldn’t have said that any louder.
Mark Yarbrough
Yeah. It was huge.
Darrell Bock
And even though there’s violence in some of the regions in Egypt related to the Christian Church, that’s a matter of just administrative realities in different parts of Egypt. Where different segments of the Islamic community have control of different geographic areas. Some areas are inherently more violent than the other because the government doesn’t have the power yet to oversee everything that’s going on across the whole of the country. So, there’s that element that’s part of the complexity as well. But they were very, very clear that if we say the name – at least some of us who have been alive long enough – Anwar Sadat, most people think of him with some respect because of his moves towards Israel. They said this is as best it’s been since before Anwar Sadat. So, this was a significant thing as far as they were concerned.
Mark Yarbrough
To just come back around to your numbers for us to think about that of 90 percent Muslim, 10 percent would identify of Christians. In that 10 percent, roughly speaking 85 percent of those would identify with the Coptic Church. The remaining one and a half percent, if you will, would be divided between Catholics and Evangelicals. The Protestant – they would use that term of Evangelical churches. And this group that we met with are very influential leaders. They are not hidden in the background. They’re very public figures. Many that are serving in strategic positions of office that we met.

And so, there is a growing, not just in regard to the role of the Church, but the positioning of evangelical leaders within governmental structures. That is something else that we saw that part – I’m following up on what you’re saying that it’s probably better than it’s ever been for that generation. To see Christians that are in strategic positions interacting with other folks was something that was they wanted us to be able to tell that story.

Darrell Bock
And being able to meet with these governmental leaders at the same time so that there’s a conversation going on. There’s another thing that’s significant and I’ll let Mark tell this story because this deals with the leader of the Coptic Church and the heart of the leader. Because one of the things that happens when you make these trips is you meet someone and they’re connected to denominations and a denomination that you’re not very familiar with. That was my first exposure to the Coptic Church.
Mark Yarbrough
We were all reading up on our Coptic theology. Seriously.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. And so, you walk into these meetings and you don’t know what to expect. And the discussion opens up and here’s what concerned the leader. Mark, I’ll let you tell this story.
Mark Yarbrough
Yeah, but it was a fascinating meeting and maybe we’ll be able to embed some pictures along the way as we’re talking about this. So, meeting with Pope Tawadros – that is his name – Pope Tawadros II to be very specific. He is a very compassionate man. Once you get beyond, what most of us in our evangelical roots that are in this group, in terms of his dress and his garb, and an entourage that enters with him.
Darrell Bock
It’s a huge liturgy associated with the Church. Yeah.
Mark Yarbrough
Obviously, we learned an awful lot about the Coptic language of going to Coptic mass. That was an event in the evening. One of the things that he said which was very powerful – it really was. He was very appreciative of our visit. You could certainly tell the relationship that he has between the Protestant leader that we spent time. They are very, very good friends. Have great admiration and respect for on another in terms of their position of leadership.

But of all the things that we could have talked about – we didn’t spend an awful lot of time talking about the dedication of the cathedral, the Nativity, which is the name of the church that was dedicated. We didn’t talk about President el-Sisi. He wanted to talk about the children. And, I’ll never forget this moment. There was a shift as we were all asking our questions. We could all ask a question just going down the line and he would respond. And you could tell his heartbeat. He wanted to talk about the valuable role of Sunday School in the church.

Mikel Del Rosario
Wow.
Darrell Bock
Concerned about biblical teaching in the church.
Mark Yarbrough
And the education, that’s what he kept referencing it as. Of Sunday School as an opportunity to educate the generation coming up. So, he wanted to talk about what we’re doing, what we see the role of Christian education plays, and how to prepare another generation. Well, you’re talking to two guys that whether it’s graduate school or whether it’s K through 12, that’s part of our heartbeat, right? That’s what we all do sitting right here at this table.

We want to be involved in that educational process. To teach people about Jesus. And he talked about some things that they’re doing. He made reference to VBS. It was almost a discussion of something that many of us are familiar with. Something like Awana or something like that for kids. He talked about a process of that. He showed us a curriculum that he’d had a team writing on. You could tell he lit up when it came to how do we equip the next generation of believers in Jesus to know him better and to know his word. It was very encouraging.

Darrell Bock
And to think about that in a context where there’s been so much persecution and so much suffering.
Mark Yarbrough
Oh my goodness, yeah.
Darrell Bock
It was very, very impressive. And the Protestant meeting was very similar in terms of one of the challenges, one of the things that’s changing is that in order to worship in Egypt, you’ve got to be able to have churches that are appointed and recognized. The worship has been going on, but really to have it be protected and safe, and that kind of thing. The government’s in the process of recognizing hundreds of churches in Egypt right now. And before, that was not happening.

And so, just another sign of the indications of change that are coming in the country where there’s an effort to try and recognize and protect the Christian presence. Now there’s one other thing about the Middle East that needs to be said and that is their view of religious liberty is not our view of religious liberty. And what I mean by that is for them, religious liberty is if you are born a Christian, then you have the right to worship as a Christian. That’s acceptable in the highest and acceptable form generally speaking in the Middle East. If that’s recognized, that’s what it means.

But what you’re not allowed to do – and this is how it’s different than the West – what you’re not allowed to do is to proselytize or bring someone over. The effort to try to move someone from being a Muslim to a Christian is not allowed. It’s against the law. So, one of the issues that we face globally in talking about Christianity and Islam is this very different view of religious liberty. Now there actually are discussions going on between Muslims and Christians about this. That’s a whole other podcast. That’s a whole other discussion. But there has been a ten-year process.

We actually have some graduates of ours who are involved in these conversations. And, I’m just back from Yale, which I’m getting updated on some of what was going on. But this is a cultural gap that is discussed and debated as the issue of religious liberty comes up in the Middle East. So, it’s important to understand that culture is not our culture. It’s very, very different. And bridging some of these gaps are not easy conversations.

Mark Yarbrough
Darrell, wouldn’t you say that you’re thinking about – you’re using some precise language of religious liberty. And what we’re seeing in – if I can phrase it this way – some countries like Egypt and we could probably list some other Muslim countries that are in that same vein – in that same line, that religious protection is what is primarily being discussed. When we think of it from a Western Evangelical proselytization concept, that’s a whole different topic. So, even when we start using the language of being born into a faith, most of are not fully comfortable with that language even though we understand what it means. They’re talking about just a baseline level of protection of individuals in giving rights and privileges for certain groups to worship under the protection of the law.
Darrell Bock
Because the environment otherwise might be hostile.
Mark Yarbrough
That’s right. And so, it does beg a second level question – which I’m with you, that’s a whole other topic – especially in Muslim countries. Because when you were seeing strong levels in other places of persecution, which has clearly been part of Egypt’s past, which is still part of Egypt’s present, is that how then can you have in that model an appropriate dialogue about faith? We think of just walking down and knocking on a door and sharing your faith openly because that’s what we’re familiar with here, right?

Having opportunity to share a cup of coffee with somebody at McDonald’s. And they may go shield up and tell you to get out of their booth. But if they’re open, you can have that very public dialogue. Where do you do that in an environment where it says sharing your faith publicly is taboo. That’s a whole other dialogue.

Darrell Bock
That’s exactly right.
Mark Yarbrough
But in that context, there’s some fascinating discussion because of this level of persecution that is happening in other places. We both have friends whose names will not be mentioned here in this discussion. But looking at Syrian refugees that are fleeing and different kinds of words that are being used today by individuals out of a Muslim background saying that they’re now Atheists. They do not mean that they’re Atheist in the sense that we would think of Atheism. They are using that language as saying, “If this form of human persecution is part of our faith, we want nothing to do with it.” That is happening more and more in certain countries where there is strong human persecution.
Darrell Bock
Now that sets up a transition, but there’s one other point to be made here. And that is one of the issues that comes up is the right to conscience and the right to conscience in different cultural contexts is seen in different ways. And so, that actually becomes part of the conversation. When you have a conversation with someone who’s of a Muslim background, living in a Muslim country, used to a Muslim culture – just stack all those things on top of one another – and you say to them, you need to allow people to share their faith. Their response is, “That’s not our culture. That’s not our context. That’s not our conscience.”

And so, you can see how difficult that kind of a conversation would be because it really is a culture changer in a significant way. But those discussions are happening in some places, which is interesting. And it’s happening in some pockets of the Muslim world. The other thing that reinforces what Mark just said is there is a huge Christian – revival may not be the right word. There’s a huge Christian growth happening in places like Iran through broadcasts that come into the country. I know of one ministry called Iran Alive, in fact we’ve interviewed their leader on the podcast who says that by their estimates, there are 6 million people who watch his show daily.

Mikel Del Rosario
6 million.
Darrell Bock
6 million. That’s not chump change. So, very, very significant.
Mark Yarbrough
But you can see how that fits strategically in a culture that says Don’t share relationally. But the dissemination of information, that’s like a book, that’s like a television broadcast. Some very mutual friends that we all have are intimately involved in the proclamation of the gospel utilizing the airways, and it is having some stunning effects.
Darrell Bock
So, part of the point of this is to say that the engagement with Islam in the Middle East is a much more complex operation in reality than most people are aware of. And some people, when they hear the word Islam, all they can think of are terrorists. And the reality is is that Islam itself is much more complex than that. The analogy I like to make is if you walk down the street anywhere in the United States and you use the word Christian, think about the varieties that you might run into.
Mark Yarbrough
You bet.
Darrell Bock
You’ve got a spectrum of what that might mean to people.
Mark Yarbrough
And especially today versus 50 years ago. Can you imagine that would be the same topic with Islam?
Darrell Bock
Exactly. So, when you say Islam in the Middle East, you’ve got the same kind of varieties that you’re dealing with. And that introduces realities and complexities that people have to interact with as they think about that region of the world.
Mark Yarbrough
And also think about with globalization. So, I was just reading this Pew Report on Islam as a matter of fact. And it was just talking about some of the same variations we see with generational moves here in the U.S. as it relates to Christianity and faith. It’s the same issue at some level. You’re watching older generations and their commitment and their level of understanding of the Quran. Younger generations are wrestling with that. They’re not as attached. They’re getting information from other cultures. So, there are very interesting things that are happening within various countries even based upon their technological attachment to the rest of the world.
Darrell Bock
See one of the things that’s happening – and this is yet another topic for discussion – is with the opening up of technology, the way that which information gets shared – a line I like to use is The world is both bigger and smaller simultaneously – there are more of us, but we’re also more tightly connected. And because of that information exchange is, generally speaking, more open. Now, some countries try to control this because of the forces that it unleashes. But everybody is exposed to things in a multicultural way that, generally speaking, even a generation or two ago wasn’t happening.

Most cultures were much more monoculturally-structured than they are now. So, everybody across the world is having to deal with various forms of pluralism and that’s impacting. Because there are more choices out there, more of what people are aware of, that’s impacting how people process what’s going on around them. Because – if I can say it this way – the default isn’t necessarily a default anymore. And that default shifts depending on what culture you’re in. So, if you’ve heard me use the word complex… [Laughter]

Mark Yarbrough
How many times in this discussion?
Darrell Bock
That many times in this discussion, this is why. And everybody’s having to cope with this. The church is having to cope with this. The church in the West is having to cope with this. Islam is having to cope with this. Judaism is having to cope with this. Asia is having to cope with this. Everybody is coping with it. And one of the pushbacks that you see is people saying, “I know my world and my culture, and that’s where I’m staying. And I don’t want what I feel like is an incursion into my world.”

That’s the way some people are reacting. Other people are going, “You can’t stop it, so how do you deal with it?” And those are the two core reactions that we’re seeing to what’s going on around us. There’s a lot of important – for lack of a better description – sociology going on in our world that definitely impacts us, but we tend to not think about it because it almost operates underground.

Mark Yarbrough
And that’s important for us as believers.
Darrell Bock
Exactly.
Mark Yarbrough
When we start thinking – and how many times, Darrell, have we had this discussion? Mikel, we’ve had this talk before of we’re called to be ambassadors, right? We’re salt and light. All of the wonderful, beautiful metaphors that show up and are used in Scripture to talk about what does it mean to be a believer rubbing shoulders with other individuals that are not believers? And that’s now the culture in which we live even here in the U.S.

And so, it’s a great reminder for all of us to remember who it is that we represent in the midst of all of that. And I think that was a reminder to me personally even in this trip and as we began to think and process. We processed on the plane all the way home of how do you even wrap around this? I am no – as you can even hear in this discussion – I’m not an expert in Islam. I am not an individual that has mastered Muslim theology and how to best engage and talk. But I can see where it’s very important for me as a believer in Jesus Christ to be able to connect with another human being. To appreciate who they are and the world in which they’ve come out of. It’s not my culture, but I have an opportunity to reflect the Savior even in my care and compassion. And appreciation for who they are as a human being.

Darrell Bock
And another thing that we certainly got a glimpse of is the global nature of the church.
Mark Yarbrough
Oh, yes.
Darrell Bock
You walk into these rooms. These are people that you’ve never seen or met before. In many cases, if they speak your language, they barely speak your language and vice versa. And yet, there is this connection that you have with them and the Lord that takes place in the midst of your conversations. And, we went to a Christmas service. We got the Christmas service in January together and worshipped at one of the more central important churches in the country. And it was just a very, as I said, eye-opening time.
Mark Yarbrough
It was a privilege, wasn’t it?
Darrell Bock
Yes, it was.
Mark Yarbrough
To worship other brothers and sisters in Christ in their land, in their way.
Darrell Bock
In their language.
Mark Yarbrough
Learning to sing their songs. You used that phrase of what a cross-cultural experience it was and we’ve all had those moments. But every time I’m in one of those environments, I am reminded again of every tongue, every tribe, every language, every people. What a privilege it is to be a child of God and to know that we have brothers and sisters! I like using that family language because the New Testament uses it on purpose to remind ourselves that we have one Father, we have one Savior, we have on Spirit that binds us together. And it was a great, beautiful Christmas celebration on the other side of the world.
Mikel Del Rosario
Talk to us a little bit about the difference in terms of the Muslims that we see in Egypt versus Muslims outside of Egypt. In terms of Sunnis and Shi’ites accept each other in Egypt? How does that look outside of Egypt?
Mark Yarbrough
You want to grab that one? That’s a yes-no answer, isn’t it?
Darrell Bock
Yeah. Let me tell you a story. Several years ago, we hosted at the Center at the request of the State Department a touring group of Iraqi Muslim leaders. They were here to look at religious liberty and how we do it here in the United States. And we’ve already in some ways set up this conversation.
Mark Yarbrough
Ballpark, when was this?
Darrell Bock
This was probably about four or five years ago.
Mark Yarbrough
And the way it worked is we hosted it, but the State Department also invited the person who taught Islam at Perkins Theological Seminary. That already tells you it’s an unusual event. So, they brought in their minds what was the Dallas religious community and we hosted it with translators and everything. And we’re having this conversation about religious liberty and they’re asking about our worship, and all that kind of stuff.

And we’re asking them about Islam. And then Isis came up. And when Isis came up the blood pressure almost in unison like a chorus changed on all our visitors. And the one message they wanted to send to us is That’s not Islam as far as we’re concerned. They could not have been more clear about their absolute desire not to be identified with that. And that actually for me, I view that as one of the most important meetings I’ve ever been in because what it made very, very clear to me, and it started me thinking about this, was when I hear the word Islam or when I meet a Muslim, I need to not have a singular stereotype about what that means. Because I literally could be in all kinds of different places.

And then the more I’ve worked with this and studied this as I’ve traveled – I’ve been to Indonesia and I’ve been to many countries where Muslim presence existed and a few cases where it’s been the majority. For example, Jordan is an interesting place. Jordan does a lot of stuff that attempts to cooperate with the Christian presence in the country. It’s not openly hostile to Christians. Egypt is an example. The U.A.E. is going in this direction, as well. But there are other places where to be a Christian is to be at risk. And so, you’ve got this spectrum that you’re dealing with. And so, I think it’s important for people to understand when they hear about Islam of getting some sense of the fact that different Muslims react to different things in different ways.

The other time when this hit me in a major way is, we did a tour of Turkey. This would’ve been back in 2003 or 2004, and we spent three weeks in Turkey. And we got to Istanbul. It’s just my wife and I. One of those sabbatical experiences. So, thank you. There are parts of Istanbul that you’re in and you go, I could be in Europe. You would have no clue you were in an Islamic country.

Mark Yarbrough
And then there are other parts of Istanbul.
Darrell Bock
And as we traveled further East into Turkey, we ended up in Konya. All these Turkish towns have second names that don’t match their biblical location. But Konya is – I can’t remember the biblical equivalent. But anyway, it’s more in the interior. The further east you got, the more explicitly Muslim the country became. So much so that when we were in this town in Konya, all the women were completely veiled.

It spooked my wife. She just didn’t feel comfortable going anywhere as a result. She wanted to be in the hotel and she wanted to be to the next town. So, there’s just this range that’s a part of what it means to think about Muslims and Islam. You have secular Jews, you have secular Christians, you have secular Muslims. And then others are very, very devout. We were in a taxi in Turkey at one point and the time for prayer came.

Mikel Del Rosario
He pull over?
Darrell Bock
He pulled over, pulled out his carpet, had his moment of a prayer, and we moved on. I don’t even remember if I watched if the meter kept ticking. [Laughter]
Mark Yarbrough
It’s interesting, you know, some friends of ours – even in some of the discussion that we had there in Egypt – that roughly speaking – somebody will correct me if I’m wrong but, 48 to 52 countries that would be referenced as Muslim nations. There were those and we wouldn’t go on record of listing those. You mentioned a few that were very familiar. You mentioned the U.A.E., and Jordan, and Egypt. When you think of those that have a bent towards attempting to distance themselves from any form of religious persecution that comes out of Islam. And you’re starting to hear that.

And so, which nations are really moving that direction, versus others that are entrenching into that perspective. So, whatever language that you want to use of radical Islam, or Jihad or any form of again, human persecution that would come out of that religious ideology, there are certainly some countries that are rising to the top and saying what you’re saying in that meeting from four years ago saying, “That is not us.”

Mikel Del Rosario
Well, you guys have made my job super easy today. [Laughter]
Mark Yarbrough
Sorry about that. We got carried away, didn’t we? We apologize.
Mikel Del Rosario
Well, the things that I was thinking of asking you, you guys were just going there. So, that was very helpful. But, I think just to recap what we’ve talked about today. You guys went to see the dedication for the largest church in the Middle East that was a Christmas gift from a Muslim President who comes from this militaristic background. Talked about the hope that we see in Egypt. And not just to think about the problems that we see and not to miss the hope as we’re telling that story. And, then also to think about the idea of religious freedom and how that is viewed in Egypt, and how we see that. So, that as we engage with our Muslim, friends, neighbors, co-workers, that we’re able to see them as human beings created in the image of God. Not as a “Muslim”, quote unquote, and just kind of put that stereotype on it. But to really engage them as human beings and to see the person that God has made them. And to connect with them as an ambassador of Jesus.
Mark Yarbrough
Amen.
Mikel Del Rosario
Well, thank you guys so much for being on the show. Thanks, Mark.
Mark Yarbrough
Thank you.
Mikel Del Rosario
And thank you, Darrell.
Darrell Bock
Pleasure.
Mikel Del Rosario
And we thank you so much for being with us on The Table Podcast today. If you have a topic you’d like us to consider for a future episode, please email us at thetable@dts.edu. I’m Mikel Del Rosario and I hope we’ll see you again next week on The Table where we discuss issues of God and culture.
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Darrell L. Bock
Dr. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than forty books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.
Mark M. Yarbrough
Dr. Yarbrough serves as the President and Professor of Bible Exposition at DTS. Mark oversees all seminary activities related to academics and public representation, including overseeing the extension campuses, extension initiatives, and online education. He received his ThM from DTS in 1996, and PhD in 2008.
Mikel Del Rosario
Mikel Del Rosario is a PhD student in New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, Project Manager for Cultural Engagement at the Hendricks Center, and Adjunct Professor of Apologetics and World Religion at William Jessup University. Mikel co-authors The Table Briefing articles in Bibliotheca Sacra with Darrell Bock, manages the Table Podcast, and helps Christians defend the faith with courage and compassion through his apologetics speaking ministry. He holds a Master of Theology (ThM) from DTS and an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University.
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